The Art of Unscheduling Your Kids

I recently tried to plan a birthday party for my oldest. Just an easy Saturday afternoon with pizza, ice cream cake, and a trip to see the new Avengers movie. He wanted to invite four friends.

So I did what any parent of a modern day, almost-seven-year-old boy would do: I surveyed all of their parents. Because this month Saturdays are packed with lacrosse, soccer and baseball games. Next month Flag Football will begin. Picking a time to plan an event for your children these days is becoming increasingly tricky.

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In fact, I had the same trouble planning Easter brunch, my thirdborn’s baptism and Mother’s Day dinner. That’s because people who love us have committed to a team of other kids to play a game on a Saturday or Sunday. Rain or sunshine. Birthday or Baptism. Religious or Secular Holiday.

It’s not a criticism, it’s a fact. We’ve turned into these overscheduled, two kids playing games in different cities, driving to a soccer tournament in Toledo on Mother’s Day kind of families.

First off, who schedules a soccer game on Mother’s Day?

Second, why the hell do we pile in the car and go?

And last but not least, when did this become reasonable behavior?

When did all our kid’s activities make us inactive in every other part of our life?

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What’s funny is so many of us—yup, I’m in the color-coded calendar club too—don’t even enjoy driving 45 minutes to sit outside in the freezing cold for a soccer game. Still, we somehow get sucked into this organized sports vortex season after season.

As a mother of three small children who hasn’t seen a good chunk of my family or friends on what should be a relaxing weekend, I’m calling a big, ol’ Time Out.

Seriously. Family time means actually spending time with your family. Not sitting in a car eating Wendy’s between games. Every. Single. Weekend.

Am I saying to quit all of it? Absolutely not! There are monumental benefits to playing a team sport. Exercise, comradery, and actually letting loose and having fun! I believe kids need to try all sorts of things, sometimes more than once, to find something they are passionate about. But from my experience, sports, gymnastics and several-hour-long tournaments can’t be our only activity. Especially if we can’t participate in these activities as a family.

So how do we hit the brakes without completely derailing? Our crew is still trying to figure it all out, but here are some rules out of our family’s playbook.

Family before field goals. Unless you’re raising David Beckham, having a soccer game (or whatever it is your committed to) doesn’t give you a free pass to miss anything. There are events that—while they might not be mission critical to you—are incredibly precious to your family member. Think about this before you turn down a birthday or a first communion for your cousin’s son. These are the people you will most likely see for the rest of your life. It should be important to you. Far more important than missing a baseball game.

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Think big picture. Life is about choices. Choosing wisely becomes more difficult as an adult. Teaching my kids how to prioritize their decisions is only going to condition them for how they will weigh their options as a teenager and so on. Being part of a team is important. Staying committed is important. There are reasons to miss a game but they need to be thoughtful. When my five-year-old daughter had to choose between soccer, gymnastics and horseback riding for the next few months, we made a list of reasons to commit to the activity. Who is participating? What will I learn? Will it help me in the future?

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Be a team. The strongest of teams condition together. They play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They show support by physically being there for one another. We had a few weekends last year where we split up as a family to attend different games. Our youngest was two at the time and we literally argued over which parent was “stuck chasing him” during the other kid’s game. Then we headed our separate ways for the next few hours. I don’t know about you, but with two of my three kids in school full time, I don’t want to spend the weekend on separate sides of the city. What kind of example is that setting for my child?

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Summer is the best time to schedule some much-needed downtime. Our littles recently took up fishing. It’s something we still have to schedule amongst the other activities, but we make sure to fit it in. Here are some other activities we’ve set up for our family.

Local 5Ks: Almost all of them have a kid’s one-mile version. Or, walk with your stroller.

Spartan Runs: My oldest is competing in the kid’s version, which is a shorter run and obstacle course.

Family Crossfit Classes: Because what kid doesn’t want to flip a tire?

Raddish Kids: Maybe cooking is more your style. We make something together at least once a week with our subscription.

Family passes: Cleveland Zoo, Great Lakes Science Center and almost all of the museums have family passes. And if you’re like me, once you pay for it you’re too cheap not to use it. The passes typically pay for themselves after the first visit.

We are the generation of Google and Outlook calendars. If I don’t put it in my iphone, it’s like it didn’t happen. But if looking at all those different color reminders gives you anxiety, then why are you doing it?

Maybe it’s time to reel it in.

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Rachel

(Non) Stay-at-home mama raising my three screaming cubs while restoring our 35-acres of wilderness just outside of Cleveland. Copywriter, sheep herder and fixer upper. I live in muck boots, jeans and wear dangling toddlers as accessories.

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